Beauty in Dress.

First edition. A stellar copy. A treatise on women’s dress and adornment—with an emphasis on color and form—written by American painter, Maria Oakey Dewing (1845–1927) and dedicated to “The Women of America.”

Dewing studied art at the Cooper Union School of Design for Women, with John LaFarge and William Morris Hunt, and in Paris with Thomas Couture. She exhibited widely, winning medals at the World’s Columbian Exposition and the Pan American Exhibition, and had a solo exhibition at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

Dewing’s text considered what she saw as the failure of the 19th-century Dress Reform movement. She faulted the “hideous” French corset, so popular at the time. In its place, Dewing offered her own design pattern for a corset; one that would not harm women’s bodies. This pattern (17 x 23 inches) was issued folded into a pocket inside the rear cover. It is rarely found—this example is pristine—and its style reflected Dewing’s artistic interest in Japanese aesthetic principals:

“We had admired the Japanese woman’s wadded belt, a perfectly straight band bound skillfully about the body beneath the breast, and the best and most becoming thing in the way of a corset that we had yet seen. Yet it seemed as if a careful artistic training, and knowledge of the bones of the human body, should enable us to make something that would fit it that was at once beautiful and comfortable; and one day we ventured to attempt the task, and with complete success.” (p138)

The book offered practical advice that was inclusive; addressing plain or “ineffective” women and old and young women too. Its advice frequently focused on women’s hair colors, suggesting which colors to wear and which to avoid. Though Dewing was conscious of social class (“those who wear cotton, and those who wear velvets”), she observed that the core principles of beauty were independent of money: “Not every woman can dress well with the most reckless expenditure, but a clever woman can dress well with intelligent economy and an artistic taste.” (p54)

With chapters on laces, trimmings, and jewels; on shoes and gloves, etc.; fancy ball dress; and children’s dress.

Description: Beauty in Dress.

New York: Harper & Brothers, 1881. 196, [1]pp. 12mo. Decorated cloth. With a touch of front cover soil; near fine in bright gilt.


Price: $275.00